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As Tennessee ‘reopens,’ make good choices

Johnson City Press • Apr 26, 2020 at 11:00 AM

Tennessee residents should know within a few weeks whether Gov. Bill Lee’s process to reboot the state’s economy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic was a healthy gamble.

Is this week’s first phase taking place too soon and too loosely? The numbers will tell the story. Our behavior, though, will influence that outcome.

While the state will not be enforcing the limitations Lee has included for businesses, each of us has the responsibility to continue the social distancing, personal hygiene and other safety measures in place. Lee’s process does not mean we are out of the woods.

Thanks in part to increased testing availability, Tennessee already has learned in recent days that COVID-19 infections were more prolific than earlier trends revealed. In the past seven days, reported cases have grown by 2,427 or 35.89%.

Over that same period, the state reported that 50,820 new tests, an increase of 56.10%, had been administered. More free testing events are taking place this weekend, which undoubtedly will provide increased insight into infection patterns.

As a whole, Tennessee has not experienced the devastation seen in New York and other densely populated metropolitan areas. As of Saturday, Tennessee had recorded 178 deaths. Nationwide, that figure topped 50,000.

The numbers here in Northeast Tennessee remain even lower in comparison. NE Tennessee had reported 180 COVID-19 cases out 9,189 across the state. Six of the state’s deaths had occurred in these upper eight counties.

If we want to keep those numbers low, we must make smart choices as the restrictions relax in the coming weeks. The region’s lower population density and distance from major metropolitan centers certainly have contributed, but so have university and school closings, restaurant restrictions, limited travel, and safer social practices. The sacrifices have made a difference.

Do not use Lee’s decision to phase out restrictions as an excuse to return to normal. If you choose to shop or dine out, continue to protect yourself and others by maintaining the precautionary measures. Wear a mask in public settings. Stay 6 feet apart from other shoppers. Wash your hands frequently.

If your company continues to offer a work-from-home option, give it consideration. If you do go back to the office, follow the guidelines.

Not everyone, of course, will have the option of staying home. As retailers reopen and restaurants return to dine-in service at 50% capacity, thousands of employees will return to work in the coming weeks. They will join grocery store employees and other essential workers who have been interacting with the public throughout the crisis.

Respect them by doing your part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Let’s make Tennessee a model for how to safely reboot the economy; otherwise, this state could be a model for how to cultivate a prolonged epidemic and an even deeper financial dilemma.

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